Divide and conquer is the strategy US must take to beat the Mafia, report says

The time is ripe for a stepped-up campaign to isolate and bankrupt Mafia bosses, according to the President's Commission on Organized Crime. The commission says crime leaders control an increasing segment of American industry and labor. In its report, presented this week to President Reagan, the commission recommends a national strategy to unite a wide range of law enforcement agencies in an effort to strike at the economic heart of organized crime.

The commission also urges labor unions to take unprecedented action to rid themselves of mob influence and encourages businessmen and politicians -- including the President, himself -- to avoid all contact with alleged organized crime figures and Mafia associates.

The report expressed concern about President Reagan's prior contacts with Teamsters Union president Jackie Presser, noting that such links could ``lead to an erosion of public confidence'' in government efforts to prosecute labor racketeers. Mr. Presser, who supported Reagan's 1980 and '84 campaigns and has had lunch with both the President and Attorney General Edwin Meese III, has been the target of a federal corruption investigation. According to commission officials, the Teamsters Union is ``controlled'' by organized crime.

``Even when there are no actual attempts to tamper with the prosecutorial process by using political power, certain political alliances and well-timed political contributions can create an appearance of impropriety,'' the report warns.

The commission did not investigate for any wrongdoing in the Presser case, but it says that the ``long delays in reaching a resolution'' of the case have given rise to concerns about ``whether Presser's support of the administration in the 1980 and 1984 elections influenced the conduct of the investigation.''

Only small portions of the commission's report were made public this week because of concern that information about Mafia influence and operations might jeopardize organized-crime cases pending in New York. The entire report is expected to be released in two to three weeks, according to commission officials.

``There has never been a coherent federal strategy to attack organized crime's corruption of our business institutions and labor organizations,'' said the commission chairman, Judge Irving R. Kaufman, in a prepared statement.

He adds, ``The commission is convinced that the government can never eliminate organized crime from the marketplace unless it develops a comprehensive national plan to address the problem.''

The commisson calls for an industry-by-industry analysis of organized crime's grip on unions and business. It also recommends creation of special federal task forces for each affected industry, to root out the influence of organized crime.

The report also recommends:

Expanding the power of the National Labor Relations Board, to enable it to decertify mob-controlled unions.

Broadening electronic surveillance laws to permit antitrust investigations of mob-influenced unions.

Empowering the secretary of labor to bring civil suits against corrupt or mob-influenced union officials.

In recent years, federal officials have had unprecented success in targeting entire criminal enterprises and the mob bosses who run them.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the leaders of 17 of the 24 major crime or ``La Cosa Nostra'' families in the US have been indicted or convicted in the past four years. An example of the scope of this effort is the case against alleged Gambino-family boss John Gotti. The reputed new head of this New York crime family was already facing federal racketeering charges at the time of the assassination of former Gamino boss Paul Castellano in December.

The cases have been made through a combination of the wider use of electronic surveillance and the use of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which enables prosecutors to hold mob bosses accountable for the criminal acts they sanction.

Federal prosecutors have also pushed to have mob bank accounts, businesses, real estate, and other assets forfeited and impounded by the government as the illicit proceeds of criminal activity. Such efforts have exerted new pressures on the national hierarchy of La Cosa Nostra, according to organized-crime experts.

The commission's recommendations seek to take that process one step further and ``address organized crime as a way of life'' in certain dominated industries, according to James D. Harmon, Jr., executive director of the organized crime commission.

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